One of the many remarkable things about The Beatles was the way they could produce brilliance without even trying very hard. We all know the story of Magical Mystery Tour and how its reputation was really ruined by its time slot: that something that was strictly for the fans ended up being forced upon an overfed Christmas nation who rose up as one and cried, what is this shit?
But the real Magical Mystery Tour, the eleven o’clock on BBC2 in colour Magical Mystery Tour of our hearts, was something to watch when the Olds had gone to bed and we had the living room and the television to ourselves. It was stuffed full of Pythonesque humour, surreal moments, and oneiric music clips, but it was also the result of what I call Lazy Beatles: the can’t-be-bothered Beatles, who were let loose when they stopped touring and Brian died and they didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to.
Paul sketched some stuff in a circle, there was no script, they didn’t bother hiring a director, and everything was just improvised.
(Although the truth was that Lazy Beatles had been getting away with it for a while before Brian died. Their overdubbing ADR on Help! is quintessential Lazy Beatles, but also excellent.)
Did they do the voices for Yellow Submarine? Lazy Beatles let someone else do it. Did they appear on Top of the Pops and other music television shows around the world? Lazy Beatles made ‘short films’ in which they mimed to their records. And when they couldn’t be bothered to mime anymore, they just messed around.
Did they play the planned Big Concert at the Pyramids or Pompeii after the rehearsals of January 1969? Lazy Beatles went up on the rooftop. Whenever they were faced with a choice between doing something that looked like hard work and the other thing, they did the other thing. The result? legend. They are my role models.
Did they go somewhere fancy for the cover shoot of Abbey Road? Lazy Beatles went out to the crossing and grudgingly crossed the road a few times while Iain Macmillan took six photos. And I’ve said it before, but the reason nobody can quite get the pose right when they have their own photo taken on the Abbey Road zebra crossing is that people aren’t angry, impatient, or lazy enough to get the strides quite right. The Beatles Bible has a telling quote from Lennon:
“‘We’re meant to be recording, not posing for Beatle pictures’—that’s what we were thinking”
You look at the complete six photo collection, and you can see the trajectory: desultory, distracted, grumpy, then angry and impatient, and finally, done with it. In the last photo of the six, Lennon is angled towards the recording studio, not even willing to cross the road in a straight line, impatient to be back indoors. The fifth one, the money shot, is the one where you can tell they’ve gone, Pythonesque again, Right! That’s it! This is the last one, come on, don’t fuck it up this time.
Lazy Beatles win every time.